It’s all downhill (Jam) from here
I’ve played every Tony Hawk game to date. Yep, even the ones with the physical skateboard (one was okay).
Beyond my love of the sport, I always approached Tony Hawk joints as puzzle games. Figuring out where all the devilishly hidden objects were or how to string different lines of tricks together is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. I’ve played so much that I instinctively see trick lines while I’m out and about. It’s ingrained.
I don’t think I’ll be as inspired by Tony Hawk’s Skate Jam.
Tony Hawk’s Skate Jam (Android, iOS [reviewed])
Developer: Maple Media LLC.
Publisher: Maple Media LLC.
Released: December 11, 2018
MSRP: Free-to-play (with microtransactions)
Three years removed from the underwhelming Tony Hawk 5 and the death of the Activision partnership that lasted nearly 20 years (RIP), the Birdman (that’s Tony Hawk, readers) is back in town.
While I’m always up for going along with Hawk’s unbridled enthusiasm (I saw the guy in-person once at E3, and man he is genuine), Maple Media, Skate Jam‘s gatekeeper, makes it really hard. Pretty much every free-to-play scheme is packed into this and it’s a shame. There’s daily rewards, a giant cash shop, boosts, special gear, video ads to earn double XP: the whole shebang. Now while it often is the kiss of death, a sordid combination of those mechanics doesn’t automatically sink a mobile game.
Where Skate Jam goes wrong is that it’s inherently not fun from the get-go, partially due to bad physics, glitches, and a poor statline for our hapless starting skater. That’s because Maple Media, the game’s developer, didn’t really base this entry off of a true Tony Hawk game, but rather Skateboard Party, a decently received mobile skating series. This mishmash of two schools of thought makes for a messy game, riddled with control issues and problems unique to mobile devices.
In theory, the control scheme isn’t terrible, it’s just so finicky that it fails. Controlling your skater with a faux left analog stick is easy enough, as is navigating the individual buttons for kickflips, grinding, and grab tricks (inverts are done by riding up to a lip and holding grind). While older Tony Hawk games had that satisfying “stick” where you’d have to be close enough to a rail or whatnot to actually hit it, Skate Jam is frustratingly rigid. Skaters frequently stop and start when you don’t want them to and crash into unseen objects.
This is exacerbated by the fact that the starting skater’s stats are so woefully underdeveloped, no doubt employed in part to drive people to stat-increasing video ads (after a run you can burn your retinas on an ad to earn double XP) and microtransactions. It’s not that Skate Jam is particularly tough: it’s just that things like jumping power and the total grind length are so underpowered and so short that it’s not very fun to play. Even the game’s main gimmick, turning into Tony Hawk after earning a certain amount of super meter, doesn’t save it.
I think the absolute worst part, and this is unique to Skate Jam, is when the game decides that you hit an angle wrong and instantly boots you back out to a random area instead of the zone you’re actually playing in. All of the above especially sucks because the levels are decent. Even the first stage of the game’s (surprisingly lengthy) career mode, simply titled “West Coast” (which is comprised of several large areas), could be in a legit Tony Hawk game with a few modifications and no one would bat an eye. Subsequent levels like “Tropics” equally impress.
I sincerely hope that one day the Tony Hawk series gets back on track, in part due to Hawk’s indomitable will that rivals fictional heroes in the pantheon of literary classics. Removing paywalls and tweaking the physics system could allow Skate Jam to work on consoles. Maybe Hawk can partner with EA and endorse the Skate series as “Tony Hawk’s Skate?” I’m just spitballing here. Make it happen, suits.
[This review is based on a retail build of the free-to-play game.]
Tony Hawk’s Skate Jam reviewed by Chris Carter
Went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice it has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.
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